When Interviewing Candidates, Ask the God Question
"Have you received a word from God?" is the kind of question a good journalist asks.
The question must have left even some conservatives squirming in their seats like a four-year-old who needed a bathroom break twenty minutes ago. It will have left liberals snorting, groaning, gagging, rolling their eyes or grinning at the thought of Republicans looking weird on national television.
The question was, of course, the one asked at the end of the first debate between the major Republican presidential candidates: “if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.” (Here’s the transcript of the debate.)
Some liberal journalists jumped in with glee. Wrote one, a humorist: “A sensible follow-up would be: ‘Have any trees spoken to you, and if so, what did they have to say?'” It’s supposed to have been an obviously bad question, wasting everyone’s time and making the candidates look weird.
Those Republicans and their thing about God! Don’t they know normal people don’t talk about God that way in public? Don’t they know it turns off the voters in the middle?
But was it really a bad question? No. It was a rather good question, for two reasons.
Getting Them to Talk
First, it’s a good question from the journalistic point of view. It’s hard to get most people you interview to say anything really specific. They know that being specific can get them in trouble. So what does the good journalist do? He (or in this case she) asks a question that Governor Gladhand or Senator Smileyface has to answer specifically or look bad. If you can ask a question he hasn’t practiced answering, even better.
You can ask a politician about his faith and you’ll get any sort of wind and blather. In 98% of the cases, his answer will be useless. You know the sort of thing: Faith very important, wouldn’t be the man I am without it, learned it at my mother’s knee while eating her apple pie, affects everything I do, source of my concern for [fill in the blank], crucial for our country, etc.
But ask him if God speaks to him and you have some chance of his saying something useful. You might surprise him into giving a detailed answer. He’s still a politician, and at this level a very good one, so you might still get wind and blather, but you have a better chance of getting something good. As indeed, in some cases, we got.
So there’s that. It’s a good question for a journalist to ask.
The Source of Their Faith
There’s a second reason it was a good question. The politician can always talk about “faith.” He can probably talk about it all day. Fine. But faith has to come from somewhere. It has to have a source. It has to have content.
For the Christian, faith comes as a response to revelation. God has spoken to man. He has told us things we don’t know and repeated for our benefit things we should know but tend to forget. No one just has “faith.” We have faith in something.
Every candidate claimed to be a Christian, of some sort. But what sort?
Every Christian agrees we have faith in something we can literally put our fingers on: the Bible. As the Catholic Church puts it in the Vatican II statement Dei Verbum: “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.”
In other words, God has spoken in a way we can understand. Each one of us should have some idea what’s he said. If you’re a high-powered, very successful, clearly intelligent person — i.e., the kind of person who runs for president — and you are at all serious about your faith, you will know what God has said to man.
No one expects you to be a theologian and have a refined understanding of some difficult issue like predestination. That’s not your job. But you will know the basics. Like, oh, what the Scripture teaches about marriage and sexuality, and about riches and poverty and our responsibility for others. You will have given some thought to how that teaching affects what you will argue for in the public square. That is your job.
That’s the second reason “Have you received a word from God on what you should do?” is a good question to ask politicians who claim to be Christians. It’s a way to find out what they truly believe in order to guess what they’re likely to do if elected. It’s a way to find out where they’re coming from, in order to predict where they’re going. And it’s a clever way to do it.
Now if only someone will ask Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley if God has spoken to them. I’d be very interested to know what they’d say.